The Old, Rugged Cross for the 21St Century
By Rev.Richard Baird – head of Church and Culture
I’ve had my eyes opened a bit more to the nature of the world we live in, especially when it comes to ideas. We truly are in an age of competing ideas, each vying for the soul of humanity. Whether it be the rise of Islam, atheism, apatheism (people who don’t care about the debate over the existence of God) scientism, secularism, materialism, nationalism, Big Tech, trans*, or ideas which come under the umbrella term of Social Justice such as critical theory and intersectionality, the 21st century is witnessing an ideological multiverse.
It’s a wonder we haven’t all completely annihilated each other. After all, there is no shortage of mistrust, suspicion and hate being spewed out to those of different lenses to the one we use, and cancel culture testifies to just how brutal people can be without even lifting a finger other than to type text and post an emoji. At the other extreme, we see the brutality of power without conscience displayed as innocent lives are stolen away at the hands of extremists.
For a while now Christians in the West have recognised that we can no longer take for granted an underlying foundation of Judeo-Christian values. We are now seen as living in a post-Christian age. In a recent blog, John Stonestreet, who heads up the Colson Centre, recently said the following:
John Adams, the second President of the United States, famously said that the Constitution was meant for a “moral and religious people” and “is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” His observation applies as much to the Second Amendment as to any other.
The shocking lack of conscience on display in America is producing behaviors that can largely be grouped into one of two categories. First, historic levels of suicide, opioid use, and overdoses, as well as epidemic levels of loneliness and isolation (especially among the most vulnerable) are together known as “deaths from despair.” Second, the various and consistent acts of mass violence, such as shootings and rioting, are among those things that could be labeled “acts of desperation.”
With both deaths of despair and acts of desperation at epidemic levels, we are clearly not a people moral or religious enough to sustain the freedoms we’ve been blessed with.[i]
The irony is that the political model (liberalism) which gave space to the expression of contrary ideas (including our own Christians ideas), is itself being somewhat stretched and frayed at the seams. Throw into the mix a young generation that grew up online and being exposed to a ‘potjiekos[ii]’ of ideas and with a somewhat strong propensity to angst, and it is an understatement to say that we are living in interesting times. Os Guinness, in his book Impossible People, describes our current cultural moment in the following terms:
Christians in the West are living in a grand clarifying moment. The gap between Christians and the wider culture is widening, and many formerly nominal Christians are becoming “religious nones.” In many ways we are in the Thursday evening of Holy Week. The cock has not yet crowed, but the angry crowd who would like to see the end of our Lord in the Western world has already seen and heard enough of our early betrayals to believe that it can count on more, and hurry us toward ignominious surrender. So this is not time for cowards, for fence sitters or for those who wish to hedge their bets until they hear the judge’s verdict on the contest.[iii]
I don’t know about you, but I get the distinct impression that it’s as if the world is on a fuse, and COVID-19 speeded up the flame. So many narratives; so little time.
Does the old, rugged cross speak into these contemporary issues?
In all these isms, there is an attempt to define what is wrong with the world, and what will make it right. I believe there is a deep, underlying hunger within these worldviews to see the world as a better place. There is clearly discontent with the way things are. Whether it’s because you are being oppressed in some form and not being allowed to express your true self, or variations to that theme such as technology can make life easier and scientism can release you from oppressive religion, there is a worldview that goes along with the concepts.
And these worldviews make for disastrous shepherds. They offer a false hope, because they offer a false god. The idols may not be constructed of wood and stone, but they’re still man-made. They still operate on the Babel spirit of making a name for ourselves without God. The new isms are really not new at all: just different outfits for old ideas.
We know what is wrong with the world, but perhaps as children of God we can show what is right with the world?
Calvary was the defeat of Satan, and the Resurrection confirmed, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, the supremacy of Christ over all things:
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent (1:18)
Calvary, humanly speaking, was the ultimate oppression: every sin, every penalty, every arrow of the full forces of evil, the heaviness of the wrath of God and the ultimate loneliness of separation – all while dying a cruel death on an object of scorn and shame designed to humiliate (and a Jew on top of that as well).
But Jesus endured the cross scorning its shame, and he did so because of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).
The joy set before Him was redeemed, reconciled men and women from every tribe and nation amongst whom God was dwelling (Revelation 4, 5 &21). And He rose victorious.
Since Satan is defeated, and God is purposefully working towards re-establish His dwelling amongst humanity one day as heaven and earth become one, we truly can meditate and display “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8)”
The message of the old, rugged cross is needed now more than ever. And it needs to be seen to be believed. The greatest apologetic for our gospel message is our gospel life. The fact that we live in a visual, social media-saturated age really just confirms this truth. In a study by the Barna Group, the number one quality that non-Christians look for, or ‘lapsed Christians’ look for in someone with whom to discuss issues of faith is… the ability ‘ to listen without judgement’ (62%) – and only 34% of them said they knew Christians who possessed this quality.[iv]
Clearly, there’s a problem if sinners flocked to Jesus but don’t want to flock to His followers. James Emery White comments on this Barna Group study and notes:
To be clear, the great dynamic of the gospel is grace and truth in equal parts. Truth without grace is just judgment; grace without truth is just licentiousness. But in regard to the art of evangelism, Jesus tended to begin with grace and acceptance first, and then, once established and having earned the right to be heard, He turned to the relevant truth for their life that was at hand.[v]
We are a people who have received grace without condemnation, and have been placed on a journey of transformation. We are part of a far larger narrative than any of the isms the world can offer. We have real hope.
I pray that people will be touched by Christ in me, because the message of the old rugged cross is the message that still changes lives.
That cross is proof that I matter to God.
God who alone can provide what the world so desperately longs for: love, joy, peace, justice, hope, beauty…
Let us commit ourselves afresh, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, to live the gospel life as well as share it. The old, rugged cross remains the hope for the world, and as long as humanity has breath, it has opportunity for redemption.
Submission – The Way of the Cross
Suffering – The Truth of the Cross
Salvation – The Life of the Cross
[ii] A South African traditional dish: a stew with lots of meat and veggies, normally cooked over an open fire in a three-leg iron pot
[iii] Guinness, Os (2016) Impossible People p22